Show: Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
Network/ years aired: Adult Swim-Toonami/2009-2010 (dub 2010-2011)
EDITOR’S NOTE: While originating from the same franchise and manga, this show is completely different from the 2003 anime titled “Fullmetal Alchemist,” being a far more faithful and fleshed-out adaptation of the manga. That said, the ’03 show is still excellent on its own merits; just don’’t expect a ton of story overlap save for about the first 10 episodes.
AniB’s thoughts: One of the best anime from the first decade of 2000, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is actually the second adaptation derived from the original manga, coming about 6 years after the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist, which diverged onto an anime-exclusive storyline with original characters and a far different ending for our heroes, the Elric brothers. While it is a beloved show by anime fans, for those who are unaware, FMA: Brotherhood is an absolutely terrific choice to check out in the genre even for the most casuals of fan for a variety of reasons: stunning animation, dynamic characters, a intriguingly crafted fictional world, and a dark quest that serves as the undertone to the entire show.
In the last decade while the anime industry on the whole has seen a downturn, this show shone brightly in 2009, in the wake of global recession and animation worldwide slumping. It was not entirely surprising that Bones (the Japanese studio behind it) would want to revisit the franchise with a more faithful adaptation of the manga, but what was surprising was how well the show came off to viewers. It was like a warm glove retelling the story of Fullmetal Alchemist essentially in the first 10-14 episodes, with some minor differences, mostly pertaining to emphasis on certain characters, but after that point took off into its own story, introducing new characters like May Chang, a princess from the far East country of Xing, who was skilled in a particular form of alchemy (which in this show serves as a major plot point and unique skill endemic to a few) and Ling Yao, also from the same country, who (spoilers!) was in search of the secret of immortality. The story also traverses along a far different and frankly much darker path than 2003’s version; a journey that has plenty of unusual twists and makes great use of all the details and locales it takes place in.
While my thoughts here hardly do justice to the entirety of the show (especially the main villain and his massive scheme), it is an absolutely fantastic outing that does live up to the high praise and hearty recommendations of many a fan. I think the grading below does a nice job of explaining the rest to both seasoned viewers and newcomers alike.
Animation Quality: Modern 2-D anime, with certain 3-D elements in spots. Gorgeously animated, the country of Amerstris and its people are brought to life with vibrancy, detail, and fluidity. The character models are well-detailed and pleasing; a good number of key characters maintain their appearances from the 2003 anime, but some do receive some slight changes in model as well. The action sequences are truly outstanding- the fights are fast-paced and fluid, and the story narrative blends well with what the animation is doing, enhancing the overall effect of drawing the viewer in. Truly a fine job. 5/5 points.
Characterization: Once again, FMA: Brotherhood stars the brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric in their search for the Philosopher’s Stone in a bid to regain their bodies after a horribly failed human transmutation (a taboo form of alchemy.)
Ed is the older of the duo; sporting long golden hair, his distinctive automail arm and leg, and a pet peeve for being called “short,” he’s a prodigy at alchemy and the titular “Fullmetal Alchemist,” having become the youngest state alchemist in Amestrian history. Despite his short temper, Ed has a close relationship with his brother and childhood friend Winry Rockbell, and a relentless determination and promise to Alphonse to meet their goal of regaining their bodies.
Alphonse is his younger brother; having lost his body, his soul is bound in a hulking suit of armor, which belies a kind and gentle boy inside. Even more highly skilled in hand to hand combat than his brother, Alphonse looks to protect Ed and fulfill the same promise, looking forward to the day he regains his human form.
Winry is their close childhood friend; a skilled automail mechanic, she is the proud inventor and maintainer of Ed’s arm and leg, and cares deeply about the two. She improves her skills over the course of the show, finds herself more and more involved in the thickening plot of the Elric brothers’ adventures, and might have a thing for Ed…
Colonel Roy Mustang is the Flame Alchemist, the man who recruited the Elrics to the military and who secretly is launching a bid to become Fuhrer of the country in an attempt to make positive change. Using special gloves with alchemical symbols emblazoned on them, Roy can create huge explosions, hence his name. He has a loyal team devoted to his goal; this is headed up by his loyal right-hand, Lieutenant Riza Hawkeye, an expert marksman and all-around military specialist who in fact hides a secret on her person…
Maes Hughes is Mustang’s best friend; he is a keen investigator and busybody who is hard not to like and dotes on his family excessively, but his tendencies can lead him into some trouble… The rest of Mustang’s team is Jean Havoc, a unflinchingly loyal and competent soldier, Kain Fuery, a young soldier with incredible skills in communication and tech, Vato Feldman, his intelligence man, and Heymans Breda, an information gatherer. (While more can be said, FMA: Brotherhood has a huge cast.)
Van Hohenheim is the mysterious father of the Elric brothers who left them at an early age; a man who rarely shows what he is planning or thinking, he travels from place to place, though not without reason… Scar is a vengeful warrior from the city of Ishval, where a bloody war of extermination wiped out most of his people. His arm is engraved with a unique alchemical tattoo that allows him to utilize a powerful destructive alchemy upon contact, something he uses initially to wreak havoc on state alchemists in a revenge tour…
Ling Yao is a crown prince of the country of Xing, having traveled across a huge desert to Amestris in search of the secret of immortality (to become the next emperor). His absent- minded introduction belies a smart, fierce, and highly skilled warrior who is relentless in what he pursues. Attended by his loyal guards Lan Fan and Fu, the three of them are a force to be reckoned with… May Chang also come from the East; a crown princess of Xing in pursuit of the same goal as Ling. She is highly skilled in the art of alkahestry, a form of alchemy practiced in her native land, and travels with her tiny pet panda, Xiao-Mei.
While this is a somewhat good-sized listing of all of FMA: Brotherhood’s main cast, it is a huge, diverse pool of characters, many of whom are not mentioned here (such as the Homunculi, the main group of antagonists), and of the ones talked about, there is much more to say, but I will ultimately note that overall, the characters of this show are outstanding, receive great development, and it is much more satisfying to watch then to try and explain it all here. 5/5 points.
Story quality: Revolving around the Elric brothers’ quest, the show becomes much more complicated than you’d initially think. Fans of 2003’s Fullmetal Alchemist will feel a very familiar, similar story progression for about the first 10 episodes; however, the shows begin to greatly diverge after that particular point, and the manga-centric direction Brotherhood takes is in fact more fleshed out and satisfying than ’03’s anime-original plot, which was very good in its own right. Expect plenty of action, expertly played emotions, and big questions to play themselves at the right time. 4.75/5 points.
Themes: There is a massive play about the role of “God,” “Truth,” and morality going on in FMA: Brotherhood. There fundamentally human questions are explored in unique, albeit symbolic and literal ways through the show, which is fueled by the backdrop of “alchemy” as the show and universe it’s set in portrays it. Does it get weird at times? Definitely. For the most part though, it’s a uniquely gripping take on questions not always explored in animation, or many other mediums for that matter. 4.5/5 points.
Don’t insult the viewer: There are certainly some hair raising moments, quite a bit of blood, and some fights that get quite violent. However, they fit so well within the scope of what this show is going for that it really does not affect what it’s looking to achieve at all. 5/5 Points.
Total Score: 24.25/25 (97%). A terrific anime that improves in every way from the franchise’s first animated series, FMA: Brotherhood takes the series in a whole new direction, pacing itself with engaging characters, a gripping story, and a powerful thematic message about morality itself. Definitely a must-watch.
Like what you see? Love FMA: Brotherhood or the 2003 Fullmetal Alchemist? Leave a comment!